Knaus’ Pit Crew Plan Not Working

By now, I’m sure you know by heart the story behind Jimmie Johnson’s pit crew.  The team struggles at Texas, gets replaced by Jeff Gordon’s crew for the remainder of the Chase, and all but a few are gone at season’s end.  Coming into 2011, Chad Knaus decided to go in a different direction with his pit crews.  Over the off season, the team held a ton of tryouts and brought in a big group of younger guys.  His plan was to send the fastest six guys from the week’s practices over the wall during that week’s race.  It would be the ultimate earn your spot crew.  I told you in January that I thought it was a bad idea, and I’m being proven correct.

Before this last week’s race at Michigan, Johnson had a few quotes and comments about the situation and how it’s going.  To hear him and Knaus talk, you’d think things were going well.  In reality though, race fans have watched the team struggle at times this season.  There have certainly been some bright spots, but there have also been some missteps.  And those missteps have led to Knaus making changes.  The front changer and front carrier were swapped out a few races back, but we’ve seen the new tandem make some mistakes recently.  If that continues, expect more changes.

Like I said in my post back in January, the really good pit crews are those that have worked together for a while.  Really tight pit stops only happen when guys know each other really well, and can anticipate each other’s every move.  If a mistake happens, the team rallies, makes a correction, and keeps digging.  Teamwork like that only comes from continuity.  Knaus has dismissed this completely.

What every smart pit crew coach and crew chief understands is that mistakes are going to happen on pit road.  There is just too much happening very quickly, and in very tight spaces for things to go right all the time.  The guys who stick around on pit road for many years are those who are able to quickly forget about mistakes and get right back to business.  A guy who is constantly worried about making one small mistake and getting replaced won’t be at the top of his game.  He’s too focused on not screwing up, when he should be focused on staying loose and doing things right.

The pit crew situation at Hendrick Motorsports is really an interesting dichotomy.  On one hand we’ve got Knaus with his brilliant plan, and on the other we’ve got the rest of the teams using the traditional method.  The 88 and 5 pit crews consist of veteran guys who’ve been together for some time.  The 24 crew has a mix of veteran and younger guys, but they have been kept together.  You know the result.

At the end of the day, I feel bad for those six who strap up and don Lowe’s firesuits each week.  In some sense, they are behind before they even start.  They are already responsible for servicing the race car for the reigning five-time champ, but because of their leader’s plan, they are subject to an extra helping of pressure.  Instead of hearing “hey, we’ve got your back and we support you,” they get “hey, don’t screw up or you’re out.”  Not a great message.  And everyone in the garage sees it, except for Chad Knaus.

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15 Responses to “Knaus’ Pit Crew Plan Not Working”

  1. Keith_KaGee says:

    If this philosophy is so good why don’t we see it employed in other sports? Crack in the armor?

  2. steve says:

    How can you be sure that the ‘missteps’ the 48 crew has had are attributable to Knaus’s strategy and not just the mistakes that every ‘smart pit crew coach and crew chief” knows are going to happen on pit road?

    I don’t know if anyone keeps them, but it would be interesting to see how the 48′s times have been this year compared to their competition (i.e., those not making wholesale changes on a race to race basis).

  3. riterchick says:

    amen.

  4. Tim says:

    This is what happens when managers (i.e. chiefs) focus on process and results and forget about the people. It happens all over, unfortunately. I feel sorry for the “Pit Crew Survivor” contestants but I’m glad it is biting Robot Man in the butt.

  5. Slug Writer says:

    This is what happens when you micro manage Atilla-the-Hun style. Couldn’t happen to a better guy, too bad Johnson has to suffer for it.

  6. ford man says:

    I think Chad has been reading too much of his press. Added pressure is not the answer. I predict that 5-time will not be 6-time, and part of the reason will be team morale going south at a critical time.

  7. JerseyGirl says:

    personally I think it’s very amusing to watch this happen to Knaus and his “plan”. I thought it was wrong that the 48 team got to take Gordon’s team at Texas and then KEEP them. Morale and chemistry is something that gets talked about in NASCAR racing all the time.

  8. ATLCFI says:

    Listening to his interviews, and seeing him on various TV shows he seems to be a VERY detail oriented individual. He seems to be very meticulous in every aspect of his job. It looks like he’s found a liability and is looking for ways to fix it. I agree this may not be the way to go about it but, I applaud him on being proactive in exploring different strategies. After all i think his willingness to “step outside the box” is a part of why the 48 team has been so dominant in recent years.

  9. Neon says:

    I am suprised the NASCAR “SPEC-CAR” series officials have not penalized Knaus for his pit crew antics for….

    •12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing)
    •12-4-J (any determination by NASCAR officials that the race equipment used in an event does not conform to NASCAR rules detailed in Section 20 of the NASCAR rule book, or has not been approved by NASCAR prior to the event)

    Maybe if Chad had to get his over-the-wall gang approved each week, as if they were “equipment”, he would be less likely to mess with the 5-time bunch that won him all of those rings!

  10. Woogeroo says:

    I was wondering about this philosophy all year, every time I read about it. The atmosphere is exactly like my job, we don’t remember what you did for us 5 minutes ago and we do not have your back in any kind of a situation.

    I’m with TC, everyone will make mistakes, it’s the measure of a group of people how they rally and deal with it, when a mistake occurs.

    my two cents.

    -W

  11. Bryan says:

    I, for one, am glad to see this article. It seems every other member of the racing media is afraid to criticize Chad Knaus! I’m not a hater and his record speaks for itself, but even the best make mistakes!! Everything that Chad does is presented as genius. Most of the time it is, but not all of the time. I do think that the sucess that he and Jimmy have had is a lot to live up to. I just don’t see where creating an environment where someone could lose a job for a small mistake could be productive.

    I’m a Jeff Gordon/ Hendrick fan and I hope that Chad will see the error of his ways. Thanks, TC for being brave enough to show us that Chad Knaus is human!!

  12. Sevangelion says:

    Nice article. One glaring omission so far is the fact that Chad was stuck with this format because Rick Hendrick decided that Mr 5 Time had to share crews with JOONYER! Hendrick may have decided that the 88 bunch needs to be good for something other than selling T-shirts to old people who used to cheer for someones daddy. Who know, Dale may win this week or very soon. He may even figure out that he needs to look at the camera (instead of the ground, his shoes, off to one side, etc…) during an interview and stop digging in his ears. Knaus may not be able to get the decent crew members from that other team in the shop. Or it might be the same old same old “Hey Dale. How was your race?” with a reply of ” Uh, we uh,….. uh …..uh…

  13. a race fan says:

    What you people are forgetting is that this guys are new to the sport, and no they are not always changed out each and every week. And oh by the way…..Junior’s pit crew isn’t all veterns there are some new guys too. The 88 and 48 both have a back up pit crew. And oh by the way, they ALL train together at the SAME time. And Jimmie goes and train with them. And I’ve noticed that its always the right front that they have a problem with, rather its the right side or the left side. I think the first time there was actually a new over the wall guy was at Darlington & it was a backup pit crew member. If ya noticed….in the pit crew challenge, this 48 pit crew went farther then only of the old pit crew since the competition even started. There was one race where they had great pits stops and only one mistake. I don’t see as big of an “uh-oh” as I did earlier in the season. Then there was Kansas….they were having great pit stops but would get boxed in because of the qualifying effort. If its a bad pit stop, you hear it on the scanner, if its a good one, you hear it on the scanner. At Michigan they did pretty good….too bad Jimmie was 2 laps down.

  14. a pit crew fan says:

    AAAAMMMMMMEENNNN, thank you soooo much for bringing this to light, not many would think I know what I am talking about but I do, someone needs to go over there and see what else REALLY goes on, not even sure Hendricks knows after all it is a multi million dollar business left for others to run and play god. I feel so sorry for those guys, they don’t have a chance. Get over there and see the REST of the story!

  15. J Underwood says:

    YEAH, so glad Jimmy Johnson is being slapped around, bout time for Mr. 5 time. Wonder what tricks Nascar will come up with to help him win 6 times. I hope all the other drivers that really love the sport & put their heart & soul in every race gives Johnson the payback he is getting now. I love it when he wrecks, blows an engine or hits someone & then cries to the public, oh he hit me on purpose. Get over it Johnson, you are not the only car on the track. Boo Hoo

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